America is in the midst of the greatest domestic gas and oil revolution since the early 20th century. If even guarded predictions about new North American reserves are accurate, over the next decade the entire continent may become energy-independent, without much need of petroleum imports from the Middle East.
America's diminishing reliance on the Persian Gulf coincides with mounting Chinese dependency on Middle Eastern oil and gas. So as the Persian Gulf becomes less important to us, it grows even more critical to the oil-hungry, cash-laden -- and opportunistic -- Chinese.
After two wars in the Middle East, Americans are as tired of our forces being sent over there as Middle Easterners are of having us there.
The usual Arab complaint against the United States during the Cold War was that it supported anti-communist authoritarians in the oil-rich Gulf and ignored democratic reform. After the 1991 Gulf War, the next charge was that America fought Saddam Hussein only to free an oil-rich, pro-American monarchy in Kuwait, without any interest in helping reformists in either Kuwait or Iraq.
After the Gulf War of 2003, there was widespread new anger about the use of American arms to force-feed democracy down the throat of Iraq. Finally, during the 2011 Arab Spring, the Arab world charged that the United States was too tardy in offering political support for insurgents in Egypt and Tunisia, and again late in "leading from behind" in helping European nations remove Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Now the Arab world is hectoring America to help overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Let's get this all straight. America has been damned for its Machiavellian shenanigans in supporting authoritarian governments; for its naive idealism in using force to implant democracies; for its ambivalence in not using force to protect democratic protestors; and for its recent isolationism in ignoring ongoing Arab violence. Why, then, bother?
There are other growing fault lines. The old conventional wisdom was that Sunni Muslims shared Israeli fears of a Persian bomb on the horizon. The new conventional wisdom is that the Arab masses that are propelling the Muslim Brotherhood into power in Egypt prefer the idea of a nuked Israel to the danger of a nuclear Iran.
The subtext of Middle Eastern anti-Americanism is that the region, if given a chance, will embrace its own brand of freedom But that does not appear to be happening in Egypt or Libya. And for now, democracy does not seem to be the common glue that holds together various Syrians fighting to overthrow the odious Assad dictatorship.